Judgment Night

by Jean Graham

"You knew."

At his accusation, Janette turned from the mantel, firelight
backlighting her gown and dark tresses. A few moments before, she
had appeared on his landing while he sat at the piano, pleased that
he had sensed her arrival through their strengthening link. The
realization had not pleased Nick.

"That he was back? No," she denied. "Not until tonight. I
sensed something, but I thought..." She let the sentence trail,
while he stared vacantly at the piano keys, fingering silent
chords. She crossed the Persian carpet, pressed herself close
behind him and stroked his hair with her long, manicured fingers.
"Oh, Nicola. He will not be pleased with you..."

He glanced once at the scorch marks on the elevator door, then
escaped her caresses by bolting from the piano bench and rushing to
the relative safety of the kitchen sink. In truth, he had not been
prepared to deal with Janette. When he'd arrived at the loft this
evening, he'd fully expected to find Lacroix. After the unfinished
business of their fight in the warehouse earlier tonight...

*"Mon pietre Nicola..."* Janette idly teased three notes from
the piano. "What will you do?"

The seeming callousness with which she asked the question
stung. But however much Janette might profess to love her
'Nicola,' he knew that she had loved their master more. He also
knew, with the experience of eight centuries, that there was
nothing he *could* do. That Lacroix would demand retribution was
a given. When he would take it, no one could say. But escaping it
would be out of the question.

"Nothing," he answered her.

"But..." Janette's blue eyes had gone from playful to
genuinely concerned. "You should go. Try to get away."

"Where? There's nowhere to run, Janette. Not anymore."

She walked toward him, clearly puzzled at this change of
attitude. "You cannot simply sit and wait. Nicola, he will have
your head this time! You *know* how he is when he is angry!"

Grimly, Nick nodded. He knew only too well. Just as he knew
that Lacroix would find him, wherever he might go, and that sooner
or later, the devil would have his due. To delay the inevitable by
trying to run would be pointless.

"There's nowhere to go," he repeated. And he was tired of
running. No, he would stand and face Lacroix, whatever the

There were tears in Janette's eyes now. "But he may try to

Nick put two fingers to her lips, stopped the word. "I know,"
he said. He looked past her to the window. "The sun will be up
soon. Whatever he plans, I don't think he'll do it tonight."

She fell easily into his embrace, an eternal, familiar habit
that he'd purposely avoided in his most recent quest for humanity,
and wouldn't have admitted missing, until now. For a long moment,
neither spoke. They simply stood and held each other tightly, her
head against his shoulder.

"You're welcome to stay," he said at length, surprised to find
that he meant it.

"No." Her voice was tight, tear-choked. "No, I must go."
The kiss she gave him was swift, passionate, and bore an
undisguised hint of desperation. She started to say something
more, couldn't. She fled to the elevator instead, the burned door
closing swiftly on her pleading expression. When she was gone, he
reached for the remote, took a final look at Toronto's pre-dawn
skyline, and then closed out the night.
Eight hours of desk duty on the following night's shift had
left him bored and ill-tempered. (How did mortals stand it?) Just
a formality, Cohen had insisted, until IA could clear the last of
the red tape away and be sure his record remained clean. He didn't
like the thought of anyone -- particularly IA -- prying too closely
into his carefully forged background, not even to finish clearing
him of a murder charge.

"Oh, come *on,* Natalie!" Schanke's high-pitched voice
preceded him in the precinct door with Natalie Lambert a few steps
in front of him. "This is the 90s." He waved a slip of paper at
the coroner. "At least give him a call. I'm tellin' ya, he's a
really nice guy!"

She laughed, and the sound of it made Nick grin in spite of
his mood. "Thanks, but no thanks, Schanke." She stopped at their
conjoined desks, graced Nick with a manila folder and a smile.
"Conklin report," she said. "No trauma, no sign of a struggle.
Looks like accidental drowning, clear cut."

"Thanks." Nick took the folder, reveling for the briefest of
moments in the warmth of the hand that brushed his in passing.

"Talk sense to her, will ya Nick?" Schanke plopped his
overweight frame into the desk chair opposite, still fingering the
piece of paper that doubtless held another bachelor cousin's phone
number. "All work and no play, y'know what they say?"

Nick laughed. "I'll try," he promised. "And I never got to
say thanks, to both of you, for standing by me the last few days.
It meant a lot. I want you to know that."

"Hey, any time," Schanke bubbled. "Aw, hell, Nick, a guy
knows his partner better than that. I know you could never kill

*Yeah, Schank. If only you really knew...* He forced the
thought away.

"...sorry I screwed up the DNA test," Nat was saying. "God,
Nick, I can't believe I almost got you--"

"It's all right." Nick captured her hand, ignoring Schanke's
open-mouthed shock at the gesture. "I just wanted to say thanks
for trying to help. For everything." He watched her eyes change
with the unspoken realization that he wasn't just referring to
yesterday's debacle with the DNA samples.

She squeezed his hand once, then slipped hers away. "Yeah,
well... it's about time you went off shift, isn't it? Sun'll be up
in less than an hour."

"Yeah. I was just leaving."

He'd started to rise when an overwhelming sense of Lacroix's
presence washed over him, drove him back into the chair. He looked
frantically around the squad room, saw no one who shouldn't have
been there.

"Nick?" Natalie's hands gripped his shoulders. "Nick! What
is it?"

The presence receded as quickly as it had formed, fading to a
quiet roar, teasing at his senses; always there, but just out of
reach. He'd nearly forgotten how strong Lacroix's link to his
'fledglings' could be.

Nick blinked, found himself looking into Natalie's worried
face. "Damn it, Nick, will you talk to me? What is it?"

"Nothing," he lied. "It's nothing. I'm fine."

"You sure as hell don't *look* fine." Schanke waggled a
pencil at him. "I'm tellin' ya, partner, it's that screwball diet
you starve yourself on. Like a little cheese and garlic pizza
every now and then would kill you?"

Rising, Nick made an anguished face at him. "It might. See
ya 'round, Schank." Sobering, he turned back again. "Oh and

The other man looked up at him. "Yeah?"

"Give Myra and Jenny my love, OK?"

His partner of two years frowned at that, the pencil tapping
on his desk blotter. "What's this, good-bye or something?"
Schanke's overbearing manner made it too easy to forget that he was
also a cop with very good instincts. "You going on a vacation I
didn't know about, Knight?"


"No, no. Just... give them both my love. That's all."

Confused, Schanke shrugged. "Yeah, sure. OK."

Nat had suddenly laid claim to his left arm. "I'll walk you
to your car."

He went without complaint, said nothing until they were
outside, behind the precinct house, and he had the keys in the
Caddy's lock. Nat's question staid his opening the door.

"Want to tell me about it?"

He couldn't look at her. He studied his own pale reflection
in the Caddy's window glass instead. "I don't think so," he said.

"OK." She sounded hurt. "I'll, uh, stop by later tonight,
after you're awake. Got a new protein shake for you to try."

"Sure. Fine."

Her suspicion and hurt were becoming tangible, threatening to
break his resolution not to involve her. To tell Nat was to
endanger her, and he refused to do that. Nick got into the car
without ever looking at her, and drove away.
Lacroix was here. He knew it the moment he touched the keypad
to enter his alarm code and stepped into the lift.

*He will have your head this time,* Janette had said, though
Lacroix's own droll comment the night before had been, "I've
decided to take you back." In point of fact, neither prospect
particularly pleased him.

The elevator lurched to a halt. He reached out, muscled the
heavy door aside, stepped out into a pool of moonlight from the
high unshuttered windows.

"Hello, Nicholas."

He lifted his head to gaze up at the dark-clad figure on the
landing. Lacroix's smile, all too familiar, said clearly that he
planned to enjoy this.

Nick started to reply, but another stirring, another presence,
made him turn instead. To his left, from the shadows beneath the
stairs, three forms emerged. The first was a woman with close-
cropped dark hair, pale skin, a form-fitting white gown. Her
companions, grim-faced and golden-eyed, wore non-descript drab
brown -- and both carried sharpened wooden stakes.


Stunned, Nick took an involuntary step backward. Of all the
things he might have expected of Lacroix, this was the last.

"I told you, did I not," the master's velvet voice crooned
from above him, "that I wouldn't be able to protect you forever?
That disobedience could be tolerated for only so long before..."
He hesitated ever-so-briefly before exhaling the last words.
"...measures would have to be taken."

Measures... Nick backed further until he collided with the
elevator door. His fingers touched the burned and blistered paint
there, and he snatched his hand away. Measures? Final death, for
him, would mean a final damnation...

"No," he whispered. "Please, Lacroix, don't do this."

His creator folded unsympathetic arms across a broad chest,
shaking his head minutely. "It's out of my hands, I'm afraid.
"Lysette and her 'associates' will no longer be dissuaded. Not by
me. And certainly not by you."

"I haven't--"

His master silenced him with a glare. Then coldly,
deliberately, he stepped away from the railing and turned his back.


"Nicholas de Brabant," the woman in white addressed him
huskily, "you stand accused on two counts of severe violation of
the Code. The first charge is betrayal. The second is patricide."

Nick looked at her for the first time, and allowed defiance to
deepen his tone. "I have betrayed no one. And as to my
'father...'" He nearly choked on the word. "He is, as you can
see, very much alive."

Her black eyes regarded him without compassion. "You have
shunned the teachings and the congress of your own kind. You have
sought instead the company of mortals, have confided our secrets to
mortals, have sought in fact to *become* mortal. Do you deny

"I have harmed no one in that quest."

Her tone softened, the French accent deepening. *"Au
contraire, chevalier.* To deny your nature is to betray our kind.
Worse, it is to *endanger* our kind."

"But I haven't. I swear to you--"

"The evidence says otherwise," she interrupted, dismissing his
protest with a wave of her slender white hand. "As to the second
charge of patricide..."

To that he had no defense, and knew that his face had told her
as much. He had killed Lacroix to protect Alysse, and Alysse had
died anyway. In the end, it had all been meaningless.

"Nothing I say will make any difference, will it?" he asked
bitterly. "Because you've already reached your verdict. Pass your
judgment and be done with it."

For a protracted moment, Lysette said nothing. She studied
him with ancient eyes before proclaiming, "As you wish. You do not
deny the act, then."

"I do not deny it."

Black eyes bore into him. "Nor do you regret the act."

He looked to the landing, where Lacroix's back remained
resolutely turned. "I do not regret it."

"And the malice you bear is also unrepented." That was not a
question. "Would you commit the act again?"

He *felt* Lacroix turn.

Given the same threat, the same set of circumstances...

Nicholas de Brabant looked up into the cold blue eyes of his
maker, and because he could give no other answer, damned himself
with a solitary word.


Lacroix's face remained impassive, his gaze fixed on some
distant point beyond his son. Nick looked away.

"You are judged guilty on both charges," Lysette's emotionless
voice intoned. "The penalty for betrayal in this degree is
censure. The punishment for patricide in any degree is death."

In a soundless blur, the two male Enforcers moved to flank
Nick. They pulled him away from the door, one stepping behind him.

A powerful hand gripped his shoulder and pressed downward, forcing
him to his knees. Absurdly, he found himself glancing aside at the
mottled pattern of light on the floor. The sun had risen. Why
hadn't they closed the shutters? Then, with a horrible, sick
certainty, he knew why, and the realization sent him reeling. He
pitched forward, nearly striking his head on the floor before the
same vice-like hand that had clutched his shoulder fastened in his
hair and pulled, jerking him savagely upright again. Two brown-
clad legs moved into his field of vision, followed by a hand, an
arm -- and three feet of sharply pointed stake, the tip of which
came to rest just over his heart.

All told, he believed he would die three times tonight. Once,
impaled by the wood; twice, burned to ash in the sunlight; thrice
when his unshriven soul met its Ultimate Maker to be told that he
hadn't made amends, had not even begun to atone for eight centuries
of killing...

With a deep-throated, animal snarl, the Enforcer drew the
stake away a short distance and held it, poised for the death blow.

Nick wanted to close his eyes, but they remained fixed on the stake
as it retreated another few inches, then began its lethal arc
toward him. He cried out, tried to rear back and met the immovable
force of the other Enforcer, who held him fast. The stake flashed
forward -- and was clamped by a pale hand that stopped its thrust
scant inches from his chest. The Enforcer snarled as the length of
wood was wrenched away, taken into other hands, hands that grasped
it at either end and snapped it like a twig, then crushed it into
so many splinters.

Lacroix glowered down at his son, a pitifully limp and quaking
thing still held in one Enforcer's grasp, and said, "I invoke the
Rule of Leniency."

Enraged snarls chorused Lysette's patently disappointed
statement. "That is your right. You will state the conditions."

Yes, of course, Nick thought, furiously willing his body to
stop trembling and failing. There were always conditions.

Something sailed over his head, slapped into the standing
Enforcer's hands. In moments, a twin to the stake Lacroix had
crushed came back to threaten him, resting once more above his
heart. Now it would come: Lacroix's reassertion of his control,
his *ownership.*

"It's quite simple, really." A muffled thud as the splintered
stake was hurled away. Then Lacroix's crooning tones came nearer
as the master crouched beside him on the floor. "I require your
abandonment of this foolhardy quest to be mortal. And then I will
have your allegiance, chevalier. Your fealty. Your *obedience."*
The voice washed over him, caressed him. "Swear these to me, and
I will spare you."


He wanted to scream the word, but choked it into silence
beneath the more terrifying vision of the one thing Lacroix knew
full well he feared most. Judgment. Damnation. His immortal soul
forever lost...

The master's fist closed around the poised stake and slowly,
torturously, pressed it home. The needle tip rent first cloth,
then flesh, and began to draw blood.


*No. Please, God, no. I cannot live this way anymore. I
cannot BE this anymore.* But neither could he face the God he
entreated with the blood of innocents still staining his hands. He
hadn't atoned. His penance was nowhere near complete...

"I'm waiting, Nicholas." The stake pressed harder, evoked a
strangled cry of pain.

"The words, Nicholas. Let me hear the words!"

He'd sworn fealty to no one in centuries, not since the oath
that had sent him, lifetimes ago, to Jerusalem. To swear it to

The wood pressed inward, twisting. The words tumbled from his
mouth in a piteous, choking voice. "I... I swear..."

Instantly, the stake withdrew. Hands that had gripped him
from behind sent him with a contemptuous shove to the floor, where
he sprawled on hands and knees, still quaking, his vision obscured
by red-stained tears. With a horrifying shame, he realized that
the childish, wracking sobs he could hear were his own.

Voices murmured somewhere above him. Then came the triple
whisper of flight; three of his erstwhile 'guests' departing. Only

In another moment, Lacroix's soft, beguiling voice had
returned. A hand touched his shoulder, deceptively gentle.

"Now then, Nicholas. We have yet to resolve the little matter
of *my* retribution."
Two things stirred him to consciousness. First was the
strong, iron odor of blood, and second, the familiar approaching
rumble of the loft's elevator. A sense of returning strength told
him that the sun was setting. He could also feel the solidity of
a wall against his back, and the sharp pain of... something...
cutting into the palm of his left hand.

The sound of the loft door sliding open preceded Natalie's
sudden gasp. She called his name, querulous at first and then more
urgently as her footsteps rushed across the floor, shoes grinding
over broken glass. Something dropped to the floor alongside him:
her medical bag, he realized when the latch clicked open. She'd
said she would bring by another of her protein concoctions...

"My God, Nick, what on Earth--?" She touched him, began a
thorough and expert examination of cuts, bruises, of already
healing wounds. But her proximity bombarded him with yet another
set of sensations that spurred his raging hunger: the throbbing of
her heart, the nearness, the *scent* of her...

He twisted away, tried to burrow himself into the juncture of
wall and kitchen cabinet. *Please, Nat, just get away from me. I
can't control it. You know I can't.*

As though divining his thoughts, she retreated, shoes
crunching more glass across the kitchen floor. He heard the
refrigerator door open, then her mild oath. He knew it would be
empty. The carnage on the floor around him had been Lacroix's
parting comment on the end of Nick Knight's quest for mortality.

*Just go, Nat,* he begged silently, and the plea came as much
from shame as it did from his desire to protect her from his
increasing need. *Accept that this creature you've tried to help,
to change, is not human, will never _be_ human. It is not even a
man; only a cowardly, quailing thing that is owned -- possessed --
by another, greater evil. I was wrong to involve you, a fool ever
to endanger you this way.*

The enticement of Natalie's heartbeat returned to his side.
Warm fingers grasped his uninjured hand, pulled it upward, pressed
something into it. Vaguely, he identified the shape as that of a
coffee mug, its contents as human blood. An acquisition from the
medical bag?

"Drink," Nat's voice commanded. When he didn't -- couldn't --
comply fast enough, her hands guided the cup to his mouth, tipped
it until the cool liquid flowed into him and, for the moment, eased
the hunger.

The cup withdrew, and she began her clinical examination anew,
tweezers plucking glass shards from his hand, salve balming the
burns on his face and arms. He endured her attentions stoically
and in silence. When his senses told him that another of his kind
was somewhere near, he staid her hand, tried to force his eyes open
far enough to see. Then the signature became a familiar one --
Janette's -- and he relaxed once again, allowing another of
Natalie's alchemies to be dripped into his eyes.

"You are either very brave, or very foolhardy, Dr. Lambert."
So solicitous, his Janette. Was there a hint of jealousy in that
elegant, French inflection?

"Probably." Nat seemed not in the least surprised at
Janette's abrupt appearance. In fact, her voice took on the tone
a doctor might use to subordinates in an operating room. "Help me
with him," she ordered.

Nick allowed them to lift him without protest, and then with
their guidance, forced his feet to move, to navigate across the
slippery floor to the leather couch. There, Nat unceremoniously
proceeded to strip off his blood-soaked clothing and check for
further damage. "I don't suppose," she said, still every inch the
detached professional, "either of you would care to tell me who did
this? Or why?"

"Ah." Janette made the single syllable speak volumes.

Through the amber haze of his clearing vision, Nick saw her
move away and climb the stairs to the loft's second floor,
disappearing into the bedroom. He collected what shreds he could
of his dignity, sat up and stilled Nat's fussing hands. "I'm all
right," he insisted, but his voice broke on the last word.

"Could've fooled me." She was angry now, shoving implements
back into the leather bag with a vengeance. "Excuse me. I thought
we'd begun to accomplish something here. A little *trust,* for a


Janette was back, a neatly folded set of clothes in hand.
Accepting them from her, Nick rose and awkwardly dressed himself.
Nat watched without offering to help. The ensuing silence was

Janette cleared her throat. "If you wish me to go, Nicola..."

"No." He squeezed her hand, pleased at the smile he saw in
her eyes.

"Then I think you must answer the good doctor's question. You
owe her that much, surely?"

Natalie's eyes were darting back and forth between them,
unsure what to make of this. Nick nodded, stepped away into the
ruin of his kitchen.
"Lacroix." He had trouble getting the name out. His throat
wanted to close over it, to strangle both creator and creation.

"But--" Natalie stammered, glancing to the burned elevator
door in confusion. "But he's..."

"The oldest among us," Janette said matter-of-factly, "do not
die easily. Some even think it possible they cannot die at all."
With a telling look at Nick, she went on, "Nonetheless, it is
against the Code -- a death sentence -- to destroy the one who made
you. The fact that Nicola is here and still alive can mean only
one thing."

Nick glared, hating her in that moment for knowing so easily
what he had tried so hard to deny. Now, somehow, he would have to
find the words to tell Natalie, to make her understand that his
time here was over. Lacroix had won.

"He invoked the Rule of Leniency, didn't he?" Janette guessed.
"And then he made you--"

"Don't." Infuriated and ashamed, Nicked stalked away from
both of them to the fireplace, where he leaned miserably on the
carved facade.

"Made you what?" Natalie demanded, hurt and anger still
seething. "Promise to love, honor and obey?"

Nick could hear Janette's smirk. "Something like that, yes,"
she said.

Natalie stormed toward him. "And just like that, you cave in?
He just walks in here and... and does *this,* and no one questions,
no one stops him, no one even *tries* to punish him for--"

"Nat!" She started at the sudden desperation in his voice.
He grabbed her by the shoulders, shook her. "Please, Nat, promise
me you'll never try anything like that." His hands tightened on
her arms. "You can't defeat Lacroix. No one can."

She met his gaze with cold determination, clearly not
believing a word of it. "At least tell me *why* he did this."

Why. In twenty lifetimes, he'd never been able to answer
that. He let go of her, took a deep breath, forced the bitter
words out. "He's... taking his revenge. Reclaiming what is


It hadn't been a question, but he lowered his eyes and
answered it anyway. "Yes."

Nat was biting her lower lip, the way she often did when she
was trying not to cry. "I guess there's really nothing else to
say, then, is there?"

What else *could* he say? *Even if we'd found a cure, you and
I, Lacroix would never have allowed it, not for long. He would
have killed you and reclaimed me, no matter what.*

"I'm sorry," he said.

"So am I."

He reached out a tentative hand, brushed at the tear on her
cheek. "Don't hate me, Nat," he whispered. "Please. I think I
could bear anything else but that."

"You don't belong to him!" She let the tears flow freely now.
"You can be your own man, do as you please!"

"No." He shook his head. "No, I have never known that
privilege. Not as a mortal, not in the crusades, not in the eight
hundred years since. I have never been my own, at least not for
long. And certainly not since..." He glanced away at the wreckage
of the loft. "...since this."

Even as he said it, he sensed the tingling of Lacroix's
presence above him. Both he and Janette looked up at the skylight,
saw a shadow fall across it, felt the commanding pull of their
master's urging that it was time to go.

Natalie looked up as well, then abruptly wheeled, retrieved
her medical bag, and headed for the elevator. She turned back from
the open door to lock gazes with Nick. After a long moment, she
started to say something, but no words formed. She stiffened,
allowed the door to slide closed instead. Nick stood and listened
to the elevator descend, taking Natalie Lambert back to the street,
to the real world, to her life. It also took with it the last
shred of his hopes for mortality.

After a prolonged silence, Janette said simply, "She is in
love with you, you know."

So little escaped Janette's notice.

"I know," he said.

She slipped a small, delicate hand into his, grasping the
gauze bandage Natalie had placed there. "We must go, Nicola."

He closed his eyes, felt the strength of their bond, and

Out in the night, above the skylight, Lacroix waited.

No Good-Byes
[A brief sequel to "Judgment Night"] by Jean Graham

Toronto's night wind whipped at his hair and coat, a
persistent tugging that anticipated flight. The bond tugged at him
as well, but Nicholas ignored it for the moment. At the roof's
edge, he stood apart from Janette and Lacroix, staring silently
down at the last ember of his failed quest for humanity.

On the ground below, Natalie lingered near her car, which was
still parked in the alley behind his warehouse. He indulged a
bitter smile at the possessive thought: his warehouse. His loft.
Home for two short years, about to be home no longer. Perhaps in
time, when they had settled in whatever corner of the world Lacroix
had chosen, he would be permitted to send for his possessions.

Mentally, he pushed away memories of what had occurred in the
loft these two nights past, of the Enforcers and the vow Lacroix
had forced from him. He would not dwell on that, he told himself.
But somehow, he *would* have to live with it.

Why hadn't Natalie gone? She simply stood there, staring back
at him with tears glinting in her eyes, and that puzzled him still
more. Their parting, moments ago, had been less than amicable.
She should have been angry; should have driven away in a fury by
now. Should have...

*Forgive me, Nat. But it had to be this way.*

*It had to.*

*It isn't what we'd planned, you and I. Not what we'd dreamed
and hoped for. But that's all it was -- a pleasant, impossible
dream. And a dangerous one. If I'd stayed, I would have ruined
your life. Worse, I would eventually have taken it from you

If he had learned nothing else in eight hundred years of
existence, he knew it to be true that no mortal woman could love
him, nor could he permit himself to love her. He'd known it since
Alyssa: he'd simply never accepted the truth of it, until now.

He wondered, were he to return to this place in two score
years, what course he would find Natalie's mortal life to have
taken. He tried to picture her, older by forty years, surrounded
by a fine house, a loving husband, children and grandchildren: the
mortal world's own brand of immortality.

*May you find those dreams,* he thought. *I give you back
your life, Natalie Lambert. No regrets. No good-byes. Please
live it the way God intended, and forget that a creature once
called Nicholas de Brabant ever darkened its path.*

As though hearing his reverie, Nat finally looked away,
turning to open the car door and climb inside. He still stood,
watching until the twin red pinpoints of light marking her car had
blended into Bay Street's traffic stream and disappeared amid
Toronto's teeming mortal life.

"Well now," Lacroix's soft voice purred from behind him. "If
we are quite finished casting our final lovelorn glances..."

The master paused, waited. Nick felt Janette's approach as
she moved to Lacroix's side. Her mental link gently reminded him
that it was time for them to go. But it was to Lacroix that Nick
turned, locking gazes with his maker and breathing two urgent
syllables into the wind.

"Your word," he said.

The ancient vampire's eyebrows rose in silent query.

"I have given you my oath," Nicholas continued. "Now I would
have yours. Promise me you'll do nothing that brings her harm."

There. Impudent or not, the words were spoken: he could not
take them back.

Lacroix's pale eyes reflected moonlight and a too-familiar
hint of cruel amusement. "Is that _all_?" His deep-throated
chuckle took obvious glee in Nicholas' anguish.

But son merely met father's glare, and without flinching,
plunged on. "No," he admitted, and fought to keep his voice level,
to stop his emotion from choking the words. "I'll do as you've
asked. I'll stop looking for a cure. I'll accept what I am, and
I'll go with you." That had poured out easily enough. That much
was, after all, already a _fait accompli._ What came next was far
more difficult to voice. But he had taken another vow, to himself
and to humanity, a century ago, and he would not break it now.
"I'll go with you," he repeated. "But the one thing I will not...
cannot do... is kill for you. Please..." He wanted to look away,
but didn't. "Please don't ask that of me. I can't..."

He fully expected to see anger flare in the ice-blue eyes.
Instead, Lacroix drew in an infinitely patient breath and said,
"Very well, Nicholas. You have my word, on both accounts."

In the lengthy silence that ensued, Nicholas closed his eyes
and thanked a distant God for entreaties answered, however unworthy
the petitioner.

"I think," Lacroix's near-whisper said into the cold breeze,
"that we have dawdled in this place quite long enough. Now.

In a blur of wind and motion, the master took wing, vanishing
into a star-scattered night. Nicholas stood a moment longer, and
Janette pressed close against him, caressing him with a kiss.

"Be what you are, _mon ami_," she said. "That is _our_ lot.
_Our_ immortality."

Yes. Just as Natalie's life would be hers.

Ardently, Nicholas returned his lover's kiss, then followed
her into the sky.